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Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Friendship with the World


Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

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13. Who—(Compare Ps 34:12, 13). All wish to appear "wise": few are so.

show—"by works," and not merely by profession, referring to Jas 2:18.

out of a good conversation his works—by general "good conduct" manifested in particular "works." "Wisdom" and "knowledge," without these being "shown," are as dead as faith would be without works [Alford].

with meekness of wisdom—with the meekness inseparable from true "wisdom."

14. if ye haveas is the case (this is implied in the Greek indicative).

bitterEph 4:31, "bitterness."

envying—rather, "emulation," or literally, "zeal": kindly, generous emulation, or zeal, is not condemned, but that which is "bitter" [Bengel].

strife—rather, "rivalry."

in your hearts—from which flow your words and deeds, as from a fountain.

glory not, and lie not against the truth—To boast of your wisdom is virtually a lying against the truth (the gospel), while your lives belie your glorying. Jas 3:15; Jas 1:18, "The word of truth." Ro 2:17, 23, speaks similarly of the same contentious Jewish Christians.

15. This wisdom—in which ye "glory," as if ye were "wise" (Jas 3:13, 14).

descendeth not from above—literally, "is not one descending," &c.: "from the Father of lights" (true illumination and wisdom), Jas 1:17; through "the Spirit of truth," Joh 15:26.

earthly—opposed to heavenly. Distinct from "earthy," 1Co 15:47. Earthly is what is IN the earth; earthy, what is of the earth.

sensual—literally, "animal-like": the wisdom of the "natural" (the same Greek) man, not born again of God; "not having the Spirit" (Jude 19).

devilish—in its origin (from "hell," Jas 3:6; not from God, the Giver of true wisdom, Jas 1:5), and also in its character, which accords with its origin. Earthly, sensual, and devilish, answer to the three spiritual foes of man, the world, the flesh, and the devil.

16. envying—So English Version translates the Greek, which usually means "zeal"; "emulation," in Ro 13:13. "The envious man stands in his own light. He thinks his candle cannot shine in the presence of another's sun. He aims directly at men, obliquely at God, who makes men to differ."

strife—rivalry [Alford].

confusion—literally, "tumultuous anarchy": both in society (translated "commotions," Lu 21:9; "tumults," 2Co 6:5), and in the individual mind; in contrast to the "peaceable" composure of true "wisdom," Jas 3:17. James does not honor such effects of this earthly wisdom with the name "fruit," as he does in the case of the wisdom from above. Jas 3:18; compare Ga 5:19-22, "works of the flesh … fruit of the Spirit."

17. first pure—literally, "chaste," "sanctified": pure from all that is "earthly, sensual (animal), devilish" (Jas 3:15). This is put, "first of all," before "peaceable" because there is an unholy peace with the world which makes no distinction between clean and unclean. Compare "undefiled" and "unspotted from the world," Jas 1:27; 4:4, 8, "purify … hearts"; 1Pe 1:22, "purified … souls" (the same Greek). Ministers must not preach before a purifying change of heart, "Peace," where there is no peace. Seven (the perfect number) characteristic peculiarities of true wisdom are enumerated. Purity or sanctity is put first because it has respect both to God and to ourselves; the six that follow regard our fellow men. Our first concern is to have in ourselves sanctity; our second, to be at peace with men.

gentle—"forbearing"; making allowances for others; lenient towards neighbors, as to the DUTIES they owe us.

easy to be entreated—literally, "easily persuaded," tractable; not harsh as to a neighbor's FAULTS.

full of mercy—as to a neighbor's MISERIES.

good fruits—contrasted with "every evil work," Jas 3:16.

without partiality—recurring to the warning against partial "respect to persons," Jas 2:1, 4, 9. Alford translates as the Greek is translated, Jas 1:6, "wavering," "without doubting." But thus there would be an epithet referring to one's self inserted amidst those referring to one's conduct towards others. English Version is therefore better.

without hypocrisy—Not as Alford explains from Jas 1:22, 26, "Without deceiving yourselves" with the name without the reality of religion. For it must refer, like the rest of the six epithets, to our relations to others; our peaceableness and mercy towards others must be "without dissimulation."

18. "The peaceable fruit of righteousness." He says "righteousness"; because it is itself the true wisdom. As in the case of the earthly wisdom, after the characteristic description came its results; so in this verse, in the case of the heavenly wisdom. There the results were present; here, future.

fruit … sown—Compare Ps 97:11; Isa 61:3, "trees of righteousness." Anticipatory, that is, the seed whose "fruit," namely, "righteousness," shall be ultimately reaped, is now "sown in peace." "Righteousness," now in germ, when fully developed as "fruit" shall be itself the everlasting reward of the righteous. As "sowing in peace" (compare "sown in dishonor," 1Co 15:43) produces the "fruit of righteousness," so conversely "the work" and "effect of righteousness" is "peace."

of them that make peace—"by (implying also that it is for them, and to their good) them that work peace." They, and they alone, are "blessed." "Peacemakers," not merely they who reconcile others, but who work peace. "Cultivate peace" [Estius]. Those truly wise towards God, while peaceable and tolerant towards their neighbors, yet make it their chief concern to sow righteousness, not cloaking men's sins, but reproving them with such peaceable moderation as to be the physicians, rather than the executioners, of sinners [Calvin].

Jas 4:1-17. Against Fightings and Their Source; Worldly Lusts; Uncharitable Judgments, and Presumptuous Reckoning on the Future.

1. whence—The cause of quarrels is often sought in external circumstances, whereas internal lusts are the true origin.

wars, &c.—contrasted with the "peace" of heavenly wisdom. "Fightings" are the active carrying on of "wars." The best authorities have a second "whence" before "fightings." Tumults marked the era before the destruction of Jerusalem when James wrote. He indirectly alludes to these. The members are the first seat of war; thence it passes to conflict between man and man, nation and nation.

come they not, &c.—an appeal to their consciences.

lusts—literally, "pleasures," that is, the lusts which prompt you to "desire" (see on Jas 4:2) pleasures; whence you seek self at the cost of your neighbor, and hence flow "fightings."

that war—"campaign, as an army of soldiers encamped within" [Alford] the soul; tumultuously war against the interests of your fellow men, while lusting to advance self. But while warring thus against others they (without his knowledge) war against the soul of the man himself, and against the Spirit; therefore they must be "mortified" by the Christian.

2. Ye lust—A different Greek word from that in Jas 4:1. "Ye desire"; literally, "ye set your mind (or heart) on" an object.

have not—The lust of desire does not ensure the actual possession. Hence "ye kill" (not as Margin, without any old authority, "envy") to ensure possession. Not probably in the case of professing Christians of that day in a literal sense, but "kill and envy" (as the Greek for "desire to have" should be translated), that is, harass and oppress through envy [Drusius]. Compare Zec 11:5, "slay"; through envy, hate, and desire to get out of your way, and so are "murderers" in God's eyes [Estius]. If literal murder [Alford] were meant, I do not think it would occur so early in the series; nor had Christians then as yet reached so open criminality. In the Spirit's application of the passage to all ages, literal killing is included, flowing from the desire to possess so David and Ahab. There is a climax: "Ye desire," the individual lust for an object; "ye kill and envy," the feeling and action of individuals against individuals; "ye fight and war," the action of many against many.

ye have not, because ye ask not—God promises to those who pray, not to those who fight. The petition of the lustful, murderous, and contentious is not recognized by God as prayer. If ye prayed, there would be no "wars and fightings." Thus this last clause is an answer to the question, Jas 4:1, "Whence come wars and fightings?"

3. Some of them are supposed to say in objection, But we do "ask" (pray); compare Jas 4:2. James replies, It is not enough to ask for good things, but we must ask with a good spirit and intention. "Ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it (your object of prayer) upon (literally, 'in') your lusts (literally, 'pleasures')"; not that ye may have the things you need for the service of God. Contrast Jas 1:5 with Mt 6:31, 32. If ye prayed aright, all your proper wants would be supplied; the improper cravings which produce "wars and fightings" would then cease. Even believers' prayers are often best answered when their desires are most opposed.